Thursday, August 26, 2010

America's Creepiest President

Last week, I visited the First Ladies National Historic Site in Canton, Ohio. It was OK, though it has a weird public-private partnership where the private side was not exactly great. Anyway, they had descriptions of each first lady. Naturally, I was attracted to the Gilded Age (Jackie Kennedy? Who cares? Now Lucy Webb Hayes, that's interesting!!!). Anyway, I was looking at the biography for Frances Folsom Cleveland. And I found it deeply, deeply disturbing.

Grover Cleveland had a pretty risque sexual reputation for the Victorian Age. He was accused of fathering a child out of wedlock, a child he supported financially. During the 1884, Republicans chanted "Ma, Ma, where's my Pa?" to make fun of Cleveland. When Cleveland became the first Democrat to win the presidency since James Buchanan, his supporters responded by saying "Off to the White House, ha ha ha."*

Anyway, Cleveland was a good friend with a man named Oscar Folsom. Just as they became friends, Folsom had a daughter named Francis. Cleveland was 27 years old at the time. 11 years later, Folsom died in a buggy accident. He did not leave a will. A court named Cleveland as Folsom's guardian.

At the time, Grover Cleveland was 38 years old. Francis Folsom was 11.

One might say that Cleveland was being a pretty nice guy. He was wealthy and well-connected. One might think he'd be a father figure to Francis and set her up for a prosperous lifestyle.

However, it didn't work how one would might expect. Cleveland took care of Francis and watched her grew up. Watched her grow through puberty and from a small girl into an attractive young woman.

Were I in that situation, I might be really proud of the young woman.

Cleveland on the other hand decided she was sexually attractive and married her in 1886. Cleveland was 47. Frances was 21.

Grover and Frances ended up having 5 children.**

Amazingly, no one seemed to care about this at the time. The public was fascinated by the story, but as far as I could tell, the reaction to his marriage was pretty positive.

And virtually no one has ever mentioned this marriage ever since.

Am I the only one who finds this story disturbing? Can you mention a current president marrying a woman 28 years younger, a woman he had taken care of since she was 11?

Also, if Jonah Goldberg knew this story, he'd use it as evidence that all Democrats are sexual deviants. 

*Gilded Age political slogans seem incredibly simplistic to me. Really, the Republicans couldn't attack Cleveland with a better chant?

**Amazingly, Cleveland was so much older than his wife that his  youngest son died in 1995. That means that Grover Cleveland's son was still alive until I was a senior in college.